Chances are, you have a fairly limited understanding of what “opera” is. This is understandable, since most of what is produced by major opera companies was written by a handful of 18th and 19th century European composers.
But it’s a stylistically more diverse art form than you might imagine. Did you know that there is a whole genre of mariachi opera, rooted in this Mexican folk style? And what about operas built around Argentine tango? And have you ever heard of a zarzuela? It’s a bit like Spanish operetta or musical theater, with dance numbers.
You would know all of this if you greeted fall Wednesday night at the opening of the Minnesota Opera’s season, âOpera Afueraâ. The first musical event to be presented at St. Paul’s Allianz Field, home of the Minnesota United football team (“the Loons” for you), it not only provided a mini-musical education for a bell-ringing audience, but also showed powerful voices. which flew skyward, creating a very entertaining evening under a harvest moon.
Lest you imagine 20,000 opera fans waving their scarves and shouting “Bravo!” Wednesday’s crowd was just a fraction of that, gathered near the midfield strip on the western edge of the stadium. In front of us were the conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, the Minnesota Opera Orchestra and a modest stage, its solitary sets, four rectangular screens adorned with touches of bright pink and yellow Ã la Jackson Pollock on a motif evoking balloons of soccer. The singers emerged from behind them to deliver 16 arias, duets and ensemble pieces.
As the twilight subsided, our ability to see the performers also waned, but the magic of the video technology made them considerably clearer on the notice board at the south end of the stadium. The hometowns of the soloists and the highlights of their careers also appeared there, in a typical sporting style.
The stars were the ones who delivered something quite unusual for an evening at the opera. Like Vanessa Alonzo, an award-winning mariachi singer whose best work has not been accompanied by the orchestra but by the Twin Cities masters of the Mariachi Mi Tierra style. Alonzo’s longtime high notes on âLa Cigarraâ and âLa Malaguenaâ would have blown the roof off the place had there been one. And she bewitched with an aria from Jose “Pepe” Martinez’s mariachi opera in 2010, “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna”, in a role she has created and revisited several times since.
Mariachi wasn’t the only Latin American style on tap. There was an orchestral fugue from Astor Piazzolla’s “Maria de Buenos Aires” tango (which could have used more of a sense of searing danger), as well as scenes from Jimmy Lopez Bellido’s “Bel Canto” and “Florencia en el “Daniel Catan Amazons” that made me want more.
These two operas offered us some of the most intense dramas of the evening, a context made unnecessary by the passionate singing of Zoie Reams to an aria of “Bel Canto” and Vanessa Becerra and Andres Acosta on a painful separation duet of “Florencia “.
And, for those who aspire to something more conventionally lyrical, the Italians have had their due with scenes from “Pagliacci” and “Rigoletto”, while Becerra lent a nice lyricism to an excerpt from “La BohÃ¨me” and the Reams’ rich mezzo voice proved ideal for “Carmen”, a work that will close the Minnesota Opera season next spring.
Rob Hubbard is a classical music critic from Twin Cities. â¢ [email protected]